Body parts

If you were a part of a body, what part would you be?

Are you an eye, always looking forwards (or back, perhaps)? Or an ear, tuned to nearby joys and distant rumblings? A (physical) heart or lungs, continually doing the thankless and vital tasks that keep the body humming? Perhaps you’re a foot that provides balance and helps move the body to where the eye can see, a brain that analyzes new data, an emotional receptor that is sensitive to pain and brokenness around you.

The human body is just amazing, a community of highly specialized and differentiated parts that springs from the merger of just two cells. Individually these parts put our best technology to shame. No computer can begin to process the inputs that our brains handle each second. Our ears and voice boxes far surpass the ability of machines to discern and produce speech. Prosthetics have nowhere near the flexibility and resiliency as human limbs. But as good as they are, none of these features can survive, much less flourish, on their own.

Interdependence is an unpopular word these days. Our American culture values independence and self-sufficiency. Most of us have been acculturated to think we must provide and succeed on our own, and we’ve been taught that we are week if we need the help of others. Yet experience teaches us that this lone-ranger model isn’t sufficient. From the team of creative entrepreneurs running a startup to cross-disciplinary courses, from renewable organizations to the nodes on the Internet, we constantly see that we can do more together than we can do alone.

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul compared the community of believers to a differentiated yet coordinated body – the body of Christ. He suggests that the particular strengths and personality of each part (even its weaknesses) are gifts of God to be celebrated. At the same time, no node in the network should be arrogant about its importance to the body, since it is the connections and the coordination of parts that makes the body work. An ear, he says, should not be ashamed that it cannot see or smell, nor should it make too much of being able to hear, since it takes a brain to interpret the music the ear perceives, feet and torso to dance to it, and a larynx and lips and tongue to join in the song.

Paul brings the analogy home to the community of believers this way:

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.

Lutherans understand the church as an “assembly”; our founding documents describe the church as an “assembly of believers” informed by word and sacrament. Too often we view this “assembly” like the ones we were herded into in grade school, as audiences pulled together to receive a one-way message from the stage. (The gathering to hear the word proclaimed and receive the sacrament also assumes but does not make explicit the imperative to join God’s mission to heal and bless the world that surrounds and includes the church, but that is another post for another day.)

Frank Viola, a leading light in the “organic” church movement, provides a helpful way to look at this process of “assembly.” Unlike the school assembly, it is not the audience or the body that is assembled, he writes in “Reimagining Church.” Instead, in the very act of coming together Christ himself is assembled. The eyes and voices and arms and lungs that we are come to life as Christ in the world in a way that we cannot do when we are hands and feet and hearts by ourselves. The limbs and organs of Christ, which we are, only participate in the body when they are participating in sharing the story, preparing the supper, serving those in need. Sitting and listening to the principals on the stage do the work doesn’t cut it.

We discussed this reality at our Kairos gathering last Sunday. Some of us noted how hard it is to need the other parts of the body. For them, the journey with God is a personal one that we cannot share responsibility for. Others noted how, in times of trouble, one’s own view (and that of a spouse) is too close, and the perspective of other believers is important to surviving and healing. Our life with God is really a both-and, a symphony that draws on the personal and the corporate to give an entire picture.

The conversation moved into our reality as a small, intimate community of believers. For those who are not supported in their faith by their families, Kairos is the safety net of “believing with” that others get from the people they live with. Our size allows us to know each other well and walk through life with each other, but it carries its costs, too. While in larger churches it is possible to slip in the back pew, or to stay home, without affecting the overall dynamic, in a small community like Kairos each person brings a perspective and a voice, and the conversation is different when voices are missing. By sharing our individual stories and how God is working in us, by voicing our doubts and questions as well as our faith, we get a richer picture of Christ than I, personally, have experienced in many churches.

The earliest churches, Viola argues, existed not to impart knowledge or even wisdom (though they certainly did that). They were not institutions of ritual or doctrine but families of practice who journeyed through life (and often hardship and persecution) together and “one-anothered” each other into active followers of Christ.

So that raises some questions for Kairos as a body. How can we use our size and flexibility to better accompany each other through the challenges, joys and sorrows of daily life? How do we focus on modeling our lives after Christ rather than knowing about him? How do we encourage each “part” of the body to function to the best of its ability, instead of needing a head (leader) to animate the body?

What do you think? What can we do better, or stop doing, to meet these goals?

Written by Bob Fisher in: uncategorized |

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